"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

2008 Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile Race Report

"I can't control my fingers, I can't control my brain."- The Ramones, "I Wanna Be Sedated."


I was not in great shape for running 100 miles, having cut my training to almost nothing for two months (can't call it a taper), trying to recover from a season of overracing and injury. 5 days before the race, I broke my right index finger and sprained my hand and wrist, causing me to McGuyver a light that attached to a water bottle.

At the briefing dinner the night before, I kept hearing people say "I thought you were kidding about the broken bone." Nope. You're not going to believe the race report, either!

Start to Split Rock (9.3 miles)

I made it a point to start as slowly as possible. I was wearing a heart rate monitor and knew I could handle 122 beats per minute for 30 hours, so I was unhappy to see the monitor read 145 at the start (before the first 200 foot climb) and I was behind all but the slowest runners. I decided not to pay attention to the heart rate and go by feel and by the runners around me. The first section is not terribly memorable, as close to rolling terrain as you get on the course.

I was in a pack with Julie Berg, Molly Cochran, Kami Holtz, Casey Lopez and others who dropped in and out. We hit the first aid station almost 10 strong. I'd hoped to be there in 2:16-2:27, according to plan, but got there in 2:10. I think Kami had already snapped three pictures and said more than most people do in a week.

Split Rock to Beaver Bay (19.4 miles)

This is the section that Londell had stated was the easiest (I hadn't run it), but there are 6 climbs of 200 feet, so I think he'd forgotten it. Kami was commenting on how rocky a very runnable section was and I told her that it'd seem clear of rocks when she looked back on it; she'd never run any of the course and didn't know how rocky it would get.

Things were going smoothly through all the section and I was feeling confident. After passing Fault Line Ridge, it's all downhill and I seemed to be doing as well as anyone around me. We passed the spur trail connection to Cove Point and I fell.

I fell EXACTLY as I had the previous week when I broke my finger. The same wrist sustained the same injury, re-spraining it (overspraining?) and, if I hadn't been wearing a splint on my finger, I'd've broken it again; instead, I ripped off half of my thumbnail. Just like the previous fall, I hit my face on the ground. I thought there must be blood on my face - there was grass stuck in my eyelashes - but no one saw anything; later, I'd form a bruise on my cheek and had a bit of a black eye. I also hurt my knees again, ripping open the scabs.

Everyone stopped to see if I was okay (thanks!) and I knew I'd get to the next aid station, so we started running again. "I guess I'm the first casualty of the day," I told Julie. "Oh, you were a casualty before we ever started, " she replied.

I got to the aid station, where I had to make a tough decision: was I really hurt too badly to continue? Karen Gall, who drove Phil and me to the start that morning and had her own race to run the next day, was working the station and washed the blood off me. I took 15 minutes to decide I would try to make the next aid station and reassess.

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay (24.3 miles)

I ran most of this section (about 400 feet of climb) alone, but caught up to Casey before the end of it and we were running along a ledge just before the end when he said "You know what's great about this race? No bugs!" I stepped in a hornet nest ten seconds later. Water bottle in one hand, the other useless, I could barely wipe at them, much less swat. OwOwOwOwOwOwOwOwOwOwOw. I counted 11 bee stings. Hard to tell, as they'd re-sting the same area multiple times. Casey got off free. "Please don't say there's no bears!"

At the Silver Bay station, Lynn Saari called, "Here comes Hopalong Casualty," the name she and Daryl came up with for me the night before. She wouldn't believe I'd reinjured the arm until she saw it. It's hard to shock a nurse, but I think the bruising going all the way to my elbow came close. The hornets were a common problem: poor Molly was stung and had to get emergency aid because she's allergic - I'd later hear she returned to the race (!) but didn't get far.

Amazingly, I was still running about as I expected.

Silver Bay to Tettegouche (34.2 miles)

This is one of the more rugged sections, but the views of Bean and Bear Lakes from the cliff tops are what one remembers - it's about a 600 foot drop. Beautiful, but for a guy who's afraid of falling, something to glance at briefly. One skirts around Round Mountain on a downhill to Palisade Creek, where I saw a bear.

No, it didn't eat me.

The climb from there to the top of Mt. Trudee I'd heard was hard. It's 400 feet, not especially steep, but tricky footing (downed trees included). I was almost enjoying myself, but was definitely looking forward to the downhill, even if it included "the drainpipe," one of the things people talk about.

Just before or just after Tettegouche station, there's a downhill that is perilously steep. There's a board to hang onto as one looks for places to put one's feet (the board wobbles, by the way). It's not too bad, really. Of course, it started to rain at this point, making it much harder. It was that kind of day. In fact at one point, hands akimbo, I looked into the sky and said "This isn't funny any more! Does it HAVE to be this bad?!"

Tettegouche to County Road 6 (42.8 miles)

My teeth hurt. I couldn't eat anything hard. Or hot. Or cold. Or sweet. That face plant had apparently dislodged the temporary work I'd had done at the dentist's when I fell the week earlier.

I really don't remember much of this section until close to the end. I was fortunate to have the light on my water bottle, as the sun went down before I got to my drop bag with the lights. There are some good runnable sections and then one hits a downhill just before the end that was quite hard, especially as the rocks were slippery with rain and I was a bit wobbly.

I had one of Nancy's famous grilled cheese sandwiches and apparently was grumbling [Honest. I tried to be pleasant. People always claim I'm grumpy when I race, but I was being positive. After all, who but an optimist would've kept running at this point?]

County Rd. 6 to Finland (50.5)

Here I knew what was coming, as I'd run it with Londell (twice, as we got lost). It was much harder than I remebered; funny how 12 hours of running will do that.

I was starting to fall apart, though. My right knee ached. My back ached. I'd hurt a tendon in my left arm in a minor fall, so I couldn't hold things well in that hand either. The first half's tougher than the second, I told myself; there's the Manitou Gorge in the second, I argued with myself.

My fingers were swollen. Not a hydration or electrolyte problem, though, that seemed to be fine. Finger swell isn't much of an issue. UNLESS YOU'RE WEARING A G-D. SPLINT. My index finger was turning blue. I had gloves in the next drop bag (well, glove and old sock, as I can't put a glove over the splint).

Finland to Sonju Lake (58.0 miles)

It was hard to convince myself to go on. I'd heard that Adam had dropped, and so had Wynn, but I also knew that both of them would say to run until someone forced me to stop.

By Egge Lake, my hands were so swollen that I could barely move them and the swelling was continuing into my forearms. I crossed the quarter-mile long beaver pond walkway thinking "Flat surfaces: Good. Cedar roots: well, we'll see."

In the Sonju woods, my lights were playing tricks on me. I kept thinking I saw things move, but knew it was just shadows.
What the hell was that! Half rat, half stick insect, like an origami project gone wrong, running at warp speed straight for me!

You're losing it, Steve. Hang in there.

Sonju was not well marked. It's hard to find the path in daylight, night is worse. I was running across the roots that tripped everyone else (Vasque Blurs have one good feature and this is it). I saw lights coming toward me. It was another runner. "Where are you going?" he asked. "Sonju station." "It's the other way." "How you feeling?" "A little dizzy." Ahh.. he was wrong. I continued on. Then I saw Carl Gammon and knew I was turned around wrong. I tried to follow him, but I was slowing him and let him go.

Then I hit a dead end. Where's the trail? I spun around 360 degrees, looking for a path. Oh, there it is! I started off again and half a mile later thought, "That's where I went wrong before. I'm going the wrong way again." I turned around. Was that a mistake? I went back to where I'd ben confused and looked again. Could THAT be a path? Twenty yards in, it was obviously the right path.

I knew this was it. I'd lost my hands, my knees, my back, my big toes, my teeth, one eye and now my brain. I could go on.

But I'd die.

I quit at Sonju.

Congrats to Chris Gardner, who won in 21:5X, just over the course record, in his first 100.
Congrats to Joe Ziegenfuss, who was second in 23:XX in his first 100.
Congrats to Brent Bjerkness, third in his second 100.
Congrats to Helen Lavin, who was the first woman and fourth overall in 26:XX, shattering the record by hours, in her first 100.

It's good to be in one's early thirties, talented and not prone to injury!

Congrats to all the finishers, especially to Matt Patten.

Kel's picture of me at Tettegouche


Londell said...

I heard you had a hard time with direction. You know, was I ran the first two section I was saying to myself "where did this footing come from?", "where did this hill come from?" and "how did larry change the course?". I agree that I may have an issue with my thoughts about the ratings... But I did nto recall what I saw yesterday. Either way, you have the award for best effort under the worse conditions (body that is). Great effort and take time to heal. We need to find a red head nurse named Stacy?

Carry on.

Karen G said...

You made it pretty far anyways. What an effort!!! The fun thing about these races is we never know what is going to happen right? Good race report.

Julie B said...

Oh my good lord, Steve. I can't believe you ran as long as you did. I truly thought you were dropping after I saw you fall. You fell hard, and on a broken hand no less and yet you ran through the sonju root fest. You are very strong, mentally and physically, to have kept at it that way. Even when everything was falling apart. It is a brutal brutal bad ass race. I don't think anyone realizes it until they run it. And Manitou?? Oh god, it's the worst section. You would have had it next. 10 miles of hell in the darkness. It took me FOUR hours to get in 10 miles there. I still say job well done, Steve. Way to hang in there tough as long as you did. Woh. Oh, and when I said you were a casulaty before you began I meant the broken hand, not that you would be a DNF casualty. Recover..please recover before you try something else!!

bryan said...

Incredibly tough, Steve. Nicely done. And, a wonderful report.

Andrew said...

Great effort, thanks for the report.

Ok, now I think its time to rest.

Heal, please.

keith said...


I wish I had your pain tolerance reserves.

I hope you recover well (and fullY) and see you on the trails soon. Let's find a nice, flat 5K to do.

heal up!

Adam said...

Did your bee stings turn ugly the day after like Matt's? I've never seen a bee sting look like that...maybe their venom becomes more toxic when they feed on discarded GU packs;)

SteveQ said...

Adam, my stings didn't swell like Matt's (thank God), but still itch like crazy. Maybe the buggers used up their nastiest stuff on all the runners before me.

Jim said...

Now THAT'S a story. Makes my DNF story seem pitiful at best. Take some serious time off. You need to get that hand (and everything else) back in order.

Maybe R&R is the best we all should be doing for the closing of the 2008 racing season.

Matthew Patten said...


Sorry things did not work out. They nearly did not work out for me.

Get healed. I mean, really healed. I had a juge advantage going into this fresh, without any overuse, overtraining, over racing injuries.

Sonju is pretty damn far.


That is an order!

Baker's Venom Cleanser for Sting Cure said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
WynnMan said...

Remember, Andrish set the CR without a pacer.. eh...arh..um mule! i think there needs to be an asterisk next to his record and all wins or records where no pacer was used. Even some of Meltzer's records are getting smashed and I think the fact that he does not use a pacer has a big influence on that. That definitely does not take away from what Skaggs did however, which was ungodly impressive mule or no mule.

johnmaas said...

You are one tough sob.
Going that far is absolutely amazing given your health status at the start line and the difficulty of the course.
You really need to take some time off... get yourself fixed up so that you can get back to enjoying your runs without the extreme pain.
Nice report. I would like to run it some day.

Jean said...

Steve, what a report.

I am absolutely astonished that you made it as far as you did after all you have been through. You are one incredibly tough person! I hope you heal quickly and get some good (and well deserved) rest!

Kel said...

You looked pretty good coming in to Tettagouche (I have a picture which you probably already know about). The SHT is one tough trail even when there are no stinging insects or previous injuries to deal with - I'm impressed that you toed the line to begin with given the hip, hand, etc.

Recover before running another race this time!


brent said...

Way to hang in there as far as you did Steve...gutsy performance to say the least.

It was nice chatting with you before and after the race.

Heal well.

Wayne said...

Good attempt, Steve, considering you toed the line with some 'issues'. I'm looking forward to seeing you follow through on your quality plan for next year. Hopefully quality includes "being healthy". :)